Cats set to upset the odds
All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship quarter-final: Kilkenny v Limerick (tomorrow, Semple Stadium, 2pm, live on RTE1)
BY the time the whistle blows on Kilkenny and Limerick's clash in Thurles tomorrow afternoon, there will only be three games left in the All-Ireland Hurling Championship – barring replays.
Even with the couple of extra fixtures created by group stages in Munster and Leinster and All-Ireland quarter-final preliminary spots for Joe McDonagh teams, the season has went by in a flash.
Neither of these sides reached this stage last year, Limerick going down by three points to tomorrow's opponents in the Qualifiers before the Cats came unstuck in a thriller with Waterford the next day out.
That will only heighten the desire of both counties to get to the latter stages of this year's Championship and set up a semi-final date with Cork, although they enter this game in differing circumstances.
Last Saturday, John Kiely's Treaty side had an easy day at the office as they defeated Carlow 5-22 to 0-13 – Diaramid Byrnes, Kyle Hayes, Aaron Gillane, Graeme Mulcahy and Peter Casey finding the net.
The following day Kilkenny were involved in another energy-sapping clash with Galway with the Tribesmen finally flicking their opponents off to win their Leinster replay by seven points.
Not only does it means that Brian Cody's men will be going into this game on the back of the loss, but they are likely to be without the injured Walter Walsh who was only able to manage 17 minutes last weekend.
Limerick too will be without personnel, Tom Condon serving the second of a two-game suspension, but this is a golden chance to reach their first semi-final since 2014.
There is absolutely no doubting that Kilkenny have lost some of their aura, and each Championship defeat chips away at the psychological edge that they used to hold purely because of their jersey.
Limerick players like Gillane, Hayes, Tom Morrissey, Cian Lynch and Peter Casey were key players in the side that defeated Kilkenny with relative ease in last year's All-Ireland U21 final. The fear factor should no longer exist.
Still, for all the reasons stacking up against them, Kilkenny seem to be able to dig deep to find that extra edge.
Late shows in the Leinster group stages saw them snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against both Dublin and Wexford. They trailed Galway by three points as time ran out in the provincial final before points from John Donnelly, Enda Morrissey and TJ Reid forced a second outing.
Even in that replay they showed commendable spirit. They trailed 1-9 to 0-1 at one stage but got the deficit back to two points at one stage before the Liam MacCarthy holders prevailed.
Their response to that loss will decide who goes forth. Limerick carry slight favouritism, but Kilkenny can set up a last-four clash with the Rebels. More often than not they find a way.